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Techno-economic analysis of renewable fuels for ships carrying bulk cargo in Europe


Fossil marine fuels need to be substituted by renewable energy carriers to meet global climate targets. However, a deeper understanding of the technological suitability of carbon-neutral fuels at fleet level is needed. Here we provide a first-order assessment of the techno-economic suitability of hydrogen, ammonia, methane, methanol and diesel—all produced from renewable electricity—to power Europe’s shipping fleet carrying bulk cargo. We compared gravimetric energy density constraints on current operations, the electricity demand for fuel production and total costs of ownership, and found that over 93% of the transport work can be covered with all fuel options when a reduced cargo capacity of less than 3% is allowed for. Compared with Europe’s electricity consumption in 2019, carbon-neutral bulk shipping demands an additional 4–8% thereof. Ammonia emerges as one of the most balanced carbon-free fuels and methanol as one of the most balanced carbonaceous fuels. Using such carbon-neutral fuels could increase the total costs of ownership by a factor of 2–6 in 2030 compared with those of conventional operations.

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Fig. 1: Set-up of study.
Fig. 2: Maximum voyage lengths of all ships covered by the MRV, derived from AIS data.
Fig. 3: Attainment rates of renewable energy carriers as a function of the voyage length.
Fig. 4: Effect of propulsion energy density on attainment rate.
Fig. 5: Suitability of renewable energy carriers represented by attainment rate, total cost of ownership and energy demand.

Data availability

This study is based on the following data sets: the data set of the MRV scheme of the European Commission, emission reports from shipping operators, AIS data from FleetMon and ship characteristics from FleetMon. The MRV data set is publicly available at Emission reports were provided by Thenamaris (Ships Management) Inc., Carnival Maritime GmbH and one anonymous shipping operator with an underlying non-disclosure agreement. AIS and ship characteristics data are available from, JAKOTA Cruise Systems GmbH, but restrictions apply to the availability of these data, which were used under license for the current study, and so are not publicly available. Statistical analyses for all the data sets are included in the Supplementary Information. Source data are provided with this paper.

Code availability

The code that supports the plots within this paper and other findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.


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We thank Thenamaris (Ships Management) Inc., Carnival Maritime GmbH and one anonymous shipping operator for sharing their MRV emission reports for the validation of our modelling approach. We also thank, JAKOTA Cruise Systems GmbH, for providing us with AIS and ship specification data on 17 December 2019 and 19 October 2020. Finally, we thank Audi AG for financial support to for work.

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Authors and Affiliations



B.S. and M.H. designed the study, developed the methodology and wrote the initial draft of the manuscript and the Supplementary Information. B.S. led the data handling and processing. M.H. coordinated the project. G.G. and K.B. revised the manuscript critically. All the authors contributed to analysing and interpreting the results.

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Correspondence to Maximilian Held.

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Supplementary Methods 1–3, Notes 1–3, Tables 1–7, Figs. 1–14 and references.

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Table 1 of the main manuscript and Supplementary Tables 4–7.

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Underlying data for Figure 5 of the Main Manuscript.

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Stolz, B., Held, M., Georges, G. et al. Techno-economic analysis of renewable fuels for ships carrying bulk cargo in Europe. Nat Energy 7, 203–212 (2022).

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